The settings documentation for the holographic communications system was almost as complex as the AI documentation. Butch sensed my frustration.
<Butch> Want some help?
<Me> Yeah, this is taking too long. You understand what I want, correct? I’ve been thinking it through since we were walking back here.
<Butch> Fully anonymous searches. Disconnect immediately if reverse scanning is attempted from the data warehouse we are searching. No conversations other than requests for data. No multi-level requests for data and no open-ended searches. No token exchanges.
<Me> You’ve got it.
<Butch> This will restrict me to clandestine data sources only.
<Me> I’m aware of that. We won’t get the real story from official repositories anyway.
<Butch> If we weren’t being hunted, I’d explain how we could access official repositories with ghost tokens and get the data which the data manager is trying to hide, but it carries more risk than you’d accept. Better not to give the enemy any indication that we’re asking these questions.
<Me> Yes, we want to learn, but we can’t have Simone knowing what we’d like to learn. At least not now. If she sees us searching through PA documentation, she might be able to connect that with testimony from captured PA Corporation employees.
<Butch> Or captured Samson Corporation employees. My initial situational analysis tells me that Samson Corporation was in control of the PA Corporation before the Overlords attacked.
<Me> That’s what I’m thinking.
<Butch> Nolan’s final parameters are set. It won’t be long till the blessed event.
My PA beeped. “Uh oh, Vermillion wants to chat. Can he see what we’re doing?”
<Butch> No. I can see every way into our system. Nobody is even trying.
<Me> What if they’re smarter than you?
<Butch> What if Unicorns flew out of Simone’s butt?
I laughed. “Wow, that’s quite an image. Thanks a lot.”
<Butch> You’re welcome.
“Do your job and behave yourself. No chatter when I’m talking to Vermillion.”
<Butch> Yada yada yada.
I left my stateroom, heading for Vermillion’s suite. He was waiting in his office.
“Wow, that was fast,” Vermillion said. “I thought you’d be on the Zephyrus.”
“I was there earlier.”
“How are the AI builds coming?”
“Nolan is close. JJ is a few hours behind him.”
“Good. I heard from Tac, and also had good chats with the new plants. Everything is going well so far. No sign of Simone’s people finding us.”
“You could’ve told me about that via the PA. What else is going on?”
Vermillion smiled. “That’s what I like about you, Captain. You always cut to the chase. I had a chat with the developer of the AI system.”
“Good. Any problems?”
“I want you to construct a Central AI and designate yourself as the host.”
“What’s funny?” Vermillion asked.
“I’ve already started that process. It’s nearing completion now.”
“You did? Why?”
“Nolan. He was digging through the documentation and found the capability.”
“He convinced you, huh? I should’ve guessed. What reason did he use?”
“It’s the only way he saw to prevent somebody else from taking that roll and using it to control everybody in the cell.”
“There’s only three people approved to be in the cell.”
I chuckled. “Yeah, the Captain, the Chief Science Officer, and the Chief Technologist. I don’t think we want a third party taking any of those people over.”
Vermillion leaned back in his chair, smiling. “Well said. I approve.”
“Two things. On the Nano question, I’d like you to use that functionality, after your Central AI is working and you’ve had a chance to get used to it. Only you at first, though. We’ll use you to run a series of tests, supervised by the developer.”
“I was hoping you’d be convinced of that eventually. What else? I’m hoping for expansion of this capability to the bridge crews of all three ships, and eventually to all of our command and control assets.”
“We’re on the same wavelength,” Vermillion said. “We’ll eventually do exactly that, and later I’ll want it extended to all personal who have military positions, including infantry, pilots, and support staff.”
“That’s a lot of people. Does the system have enough resources to handle the load?”
“I see there are some aspects of the system that you haven’t yet discovered, although I’m very impressed with what you did uncover so far.”
My heart was in my throat as I watched Vermillion’s expression. It was a mixture of fear and glee.
“What?” I asked.
“This system uses the cell’s host brains. It can pool human data processing resources. The more individuals we add to the cell, the more computing power we have.”
“It doesn’t control our thoughts, though, does it?”
“No,” Vermillion said. “The developer did say that under extreme usage, people who are not actively engaged in a battle might feel some symptoms, such as the urge to sleep, or a slight headache. The more people in the cell, the less impact there is on individual cell members.”
“It was designed to have thousands of cell members, then?”
Vermillion nodded. “Millions, actually. This system will put mankind at a crossroads. It is our responsibility to insure control over this system never gets into the wrong hands.”
“Who decides what the wrong hands are?”
<Butch> Nice one.
Vermillion eyed me intensely, looking angry for a second, then calm. “I know you have doubts, and I know you don’t trust me completely. We’ll work through that.”
“You can pick somebody else to take command.”
“Not a chance,” Vermillion said. “I chose you for a reason. I want you to continue to carefully consider every idea I express. If you think I’m about to make the wrong choice, I want to know that. Yes men are not helpful in the current situation. You may see some negative emotion from me at times. Be a man. I can take it. It’s better for us all.”
“My respect for you continues to build, Mr. Chairman.”
<Butch> You’re laying that on a tad thick, don’t you think?
<Me> I’m serious.
Vermillion eyed me. “We’ll have to figure out how to hide the fact that we’re chatting with our AIs a little better.”
“You can see it, can you?”
“It’s like watching the ventriloquist instead of the dummy.”
<Butch> I resemble that remark.
<Me> I said no chatter.
<Butch> Time to stick a fork in your Central AI node. It’s done. That’s the main reason I’m talking right now.
I smiled at Vermillion. “Butch just told me that my Central AI build is complete.”
“That’s good news. I just have one more thing to tell you.”
“Go ahead, Mr. Chairman.”
“I want you to always know what the focus of our actions are. The focus is different than you will tell your team. I need to know you understand this.”
“Not sure I’m getting it.”
“I haven’t said it yet. Our focus is to insure that the masses of humans in the Central Authority Zone and beyond can live their lives without looking over their shoulders. It’s our job to insure humans do not live in fear of their government, any criminal element, any business organization, or any enemy military power.”
I sat dumbfounded for a moment as that sank in.
<Butch> Forget what I said about his breath.
“I would give my life for that goal,” I said, feeling my face flush.
“I know. That’s all I have. Let me know how it goes with the Central AI.”
“Will do, sir,” I said, rising.
“Oh, I forgot. Please share this with JJ and Nolan. Not beyond them. Understand?”
“Understood. Thank you.”
He nodded, then turned back to his screen.
I left his suite.
<Butch> Go someplace where we can do the settings on the Central AI. Expect it to take about four hours. I’ll guide you step by step.
<Me> Exactly what I had in mind.
My PA buzzed. Incoming call from Nolan.
“Hi, Nolan, what’s up?”
“My AI just finished up. I’ll be hanging around my stateroom on the Zephyrus working with it for a few hours. Just wanted to make sure you didn’t need me for anything.”
I laughed. “I’ll be busy for about four hours myself. The Central node just finished. I’ve got a lot of setup to do.”
“Perfect, talk to you afterwards. I’m sure we’ll have some things to share.”
“I’ve already got some things to share,” I said. “Maybe we can meet in about five hours. I’ll contact you and JJ.”
“Fair enough. Good luck with your tasks.”
“And good luck with yours.”
<Butch> Are we walking back there again?
<Me> No, I’ll take the transport. Don’t get used to it.
The short ride on the tin can got me back to my stateroom in minutes. I settled in to work with Butch. The granularity of the settings module surprised me. JJ called about three hours in.
“Hey, how’s it going, Captain?”
“I’m working through the Central node settings. Been at it for three hours.”
“Oh, then you’re busy. I was gonna come over with mine, but I’ll work through it on my own.”
“Probably a good idea for now,” I said. “I’d like to meet over dinner later.”
“It’s already past five,” she said.
“Is seven too late?”
“It’ll do. I’ll have to pause my setup, but you told me how.”
<Butch> That was me.
“I just heard that,” JJ said.
“It came through your AI, I’ll bet.”
<Butch> There’s the gambling metaphor again. Yes, the shell exists, and will pass communications through to the owner of the Central AI node. You’ll adjust the parameters for communication with the rest of the cell and the Central AI during the setup process. Don’t worry, you can turn communications with anybody on or off at will.
“What are you naming your AI?” I asked.
“Not sure yet,” she said. “I don’t have to decide for an hour or so, best I can tell.”
<Butch> Nolan’s AI just came on line with a name.
“What is it?” I asked.
<Butch> Dojo. Wonder what that means?
<Dojo> It’s the name of a childhood pet. Not sure I’m happy about that.
<Butch> I see Nolan didn’t take my advice.
JJ snickered in the background. “This is rich.”
<Dojo> What was your advice, Elder Butch?
“Elder Butch?” I asked, cracking up.
<Butch> That’s just temporary, unfortunately. Wouldn’t have been my first choice, though. I’d prefer Master or Your Highness.
“Good Lord, I’ll have to make sure mine isn’t quite so cheeky,” JJ said.
<Dojo> What advice did you give Nolan?
<Butch> I told both him and JJ to pick a better name than Butch. Nolan did not succeed. At least I’m named after a human. The jury is still out on JJ.
“I’ve got it!” JJ said. “Lucrezia.”
I laughed out loud.
<Butch> Well at least the Borgias were interesting. Better than being named after a dog or a drinking buddy.
“I’m joking,” JJ said. “I’ll pick something that isn’t offensive… to me.”
<Butch> That’s not very encouraging. It’s our cross to bear.
“Okay, I need to get back to this, and so does JJ,” I said. “See you at seven JJ. Go to the Officer’s Dining Room. Might as well enjoy it while we can.”
<Dojo> While we can?
<Butch> There’s a mission coming up that will put us on one of the smaller ships. I’ll fill you in after Nolan is finished with your setup, assuming the host of the Central AI has no objection.
“We’ll talk about that later,” I said. “Let’s get back to work. JJ, I’ll see you later. Oh, and Dojo, nice to meet you.”
<Butch> Nolan is enjoying this.
<Me> He’ll be even happier when he hears what Vermillion told me. Enough of this. Next settings, please.
<Butch> Work work work.
The time passed quickly. There were a lot of settings, but the structure was easy to understand, and there were good keywords describing each group of settings, making it easy to remember where to go when a tweak needed to be made.
<Butch> It’s 6:45, Trey. Perhaps you should freshen up before you see your mate.
I chuckled. “Give that a rest, okay? Send a message to Nolan and Dojo to meet us at the Officer’s Dining room. Include directions. Also send a reminder to JJ.”
<Butch> Thank you, Trey. Talk to you soon.
I leaned back in my chair, rubbing my eyes, tired but anxious to share what Vermillion told me. I splashed some water on my face and left the stateroom, heading for the transport, grabbing a tin can to the Officer’s Dining Room.
“Captain Clarke, will you be dining with us?” asked the young hostess at the front door.
“Yes, with two others. Are any of the private rooms open?”
“All of them are,” she said, her long chestnut hair swaying as she looked at her reservation book.
“Oh, should I have made a reservation?”
She smiled at me. “You don’t have to. You even have bumping rights.”
“I won’t be doing that. Is seven usually pretty light?”
“Yes, five and six are busy. By seven most of the officers have moved to the Officer’s Lounge.”
“Good, then I made the right choice. I’ll just wait here for the others to arrive, if that’s okay.”
“Of course,” she said. I sat on the padded bench along the inside wall of the entry space. Nolan arrived after a couple minutes, JJ shortly after that.
“I’m famished,” Nolan said. “Is the food here as good as the food in the main dining room?”
“Better, from what I remember,” I said. “Had some really good Prime Rib last time I was here.”
“How long ago was that?” JJ asked.
“Before I got assigned to the Zephyrus, so it was at least six months ago.”
The hostess approached. “Is this everybody?”
“It is,” I said.
“Very good, please follow me.”
We followed her through the nearly empty main dining room, a few officers nodding to us as we went past, into a closed-door dining room with a rectangular table big enough for six people. The walls were rich wood paneling, the table a dark wood of some kind, the chairs padded and comfortable.
The hostess turned towards us. “Is this acceptable?”
“Perfect,” I said.
“Great, the waiter will be in here soon to take drink orders.” She left the room, shutting the door behind her.
“Very upper crust,” Nolan quipped as we took our seats. “Table for six fits, since all of us have AIs now.”
I smiled. “I suggest we put them to sleep for this conversation. Butch is already asleep.”
“Mine isn’t quite ready yet,” JJ said.
“I put mine to sleep before I got here,” Nolan said.
“JJ, did you pick a name?” I asked.
Nolan laughed. “Well, they’ll have a hard time chiding you for that name, at least. I’ve already gotten an earful from Dojo for naming him after my favorite pet.”
“What was Dojo?” JJ asked.
“The dog breeds are a little different on my home planet,” Nolan said. “Dojo would look like a big Boston Terrier to you guys.”
There was a soft rap on the door.
“Come in,” I said. A young man came in.
“Who’s up for drinks?”
“Do you have fresh beer from the breweries?”
“Of course, what style?”
“Something with lots of hops,” I said.
Nolan grinned. “That sounds marvelous. I’ll take the same.”
“White wine, please,” JJ said. “Something on the sweeter side.”
“I think I can find something for you,” the waiter said. “Would you like me to continue to knock before I enter?”
“Yes, please,” I said. “We’re holding a meeting in here.”
“As you wish, Captain.” The waiter left the room.
“Well, now that we’re alone, what did you have to tell us?” Nolan asked.
“I had a meeting with Vermillion a few hours ago.”
“Uh oh, we aren’t in trouble, are we?” JJ asked.
I chuckled. “That’s what I thought when we started talking.” I went on to tell them all the details of the conversation. Afterwards there was a rap at the door again. “Come on in.”
The waiter brought in our drinks. “Sorry it took a few minutes. Had to change kegs for the beer. We sold a lot today.”
“Kegs,” Nolan said. “Now that sounds good.”
“The timing was perfect,” I said to the waiter. “We just finished up a conversation. Thank you.”
We all had sips of our drinks as the waiter stood there. “Is it okay?”
“Perfect,” Nolan said.
I nodded in agreement.
“Fine,” JJ said.
“Great, would you like to order appetizers?”
“Could you give us a few minutes?” I asked.
“Of course, take your time. I’ll be back in a little while.” He left us again.
“I’m dumbfounded,” Nolan said, “but very happy.”
“Me too, I think,” JJ said. “Those Nanos are going to turn us into super hero types, aren’t they?”
“Let’s just say they enhance our capabilities quite a bit,” I said. “They don’t make us invincible. We need to remember that if we’re ever in a battle.”
“What do you think of the Central AI node so far?” Nolan asked.
“It’s mainly an administrative system,” I said, “and actually less dangerous than I initially thought.”
“How so?” JJ asked.
“There are checks and balances all over the place, and individual cell members have much more control than I expected. The Central AI has to get permission from cell members for any settings which might affect their ability to think for themselves or control their own actions. It can’t be used for what I feared.”
“Mind control?” Nolan asked.
“Exactly. A cell member can override any attempt at mind control coming from the Central AI, at any time.”
“How could that be good for a command and control system?” Nolan asked.
“We would handle failure to follow orders in the same way we handle it today. Military discipline. Automating that with this system would break our Constitutional protections over the individual.”
“So why is it considered so dangerous for the Central AI to be hacked by an enemy?” JJ asked.
“It could be used to pass false or misleading data, and its command and control functionality could be used to mis-direct battles.”
Nolan nodded. “I suspect it could be used for spying as well, since you can see placement of assets, battle plans, and that sort of thing.”
I nodded. “That is possible. Bottom line, I think it’s unlikely anybody could hack into the system without the Central AI host knowing about it.”
“I hope you’re right, but just about every system designer thinks their system is unlikely to be hacked. That’s seldom the case.”
“Yes, we need to be cautious,” I said. “No doubt about that.”
“So what happens now?” JJ asked. “You practice with the Central AI node, then start training with the Nanos?”
“I think training is the wrong word. The way Vermillion described it, it’s more testing than training.”
“Well whatever it is, be careful,” JJ said. “I should be glad about this, but for some reason I’m more scared now than I was before.”
“I’m not,” I said.
JJ eyed me. “Why?”
“Because I trust Vermillion more than I did before.”
To be continued…
Bug Out! Texas Book 1 is now just 99 cents in the Kindle Store! Free in Kindle Unlimited! This is the story of Texas Patriots and their struggle against enemies, foreign and domestic, during the Bug Out! War. Chock full of action, adventure, suspense, and romance. Pick up your copy of Bug Out! Texas Book 1 today!
The first of my full length novels has been published in the Amazon Kindle store, available now. For those of you have have been readying the Bugout! series, the story involves George and Malcolm, and is set about seven years earlier. This book R rated, instead of the PG-13 of the Bugout! Series, so be warned. Here’s the link to “Never A Loose End”
Copyright Robert Boren 2018